LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A man who once passed himself off as a member of the
wealthy Rockefeller family was convicted Wednesday of killing the son of his San
Marino landlord 28 years ago and burying the remains in the victim’s backyard.
Jurors deliberated for about a day before convicting 52-year-old Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter of first-degree murder for the killing of John Sohus in February 1985. Gerhartsreiter showed no emotion as the verdict was read.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury began deliberating Tuesday morning, and after meeting for another hour Wednesday morning, announced that it had reached a verdict. In addition to convicting the defendant of murder, the jury also found true allegations that he used both blunt and sharp objects in the killing.
Gerhartsreiter faces 27 years to life in prison when he is sentenced June 26.
“The system worked,” Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian said after the verdict was read. “… We trusted in the system, we trusted in the jurors. They heard the evidence and they reached a fair and just verdict.”
Asked about the difficulty of prosecuting such an old case, Balian said,
“One thing that never changes is the circumstances. … The jury was able to
look at the circumstances and determine the truth.”
Pressed about Gerhartsreiter’s motive for the killing, Balian would only say, “The defendant, he wanted John Sohus dead, and he accomplished (it).”
John Sohus’ step-sister, Ellen, said her first thought when she heard the verdict was, “It’s finally over.”
“He (John) would be so overwhelmed about how many people loved him and how many people were fighting for him,” she said. “I think that he would just be amazed that he was that important.”
Smiling, she described John Sohus as “fun-loving” and “the original nerd.”
“He would bring over gadgets and electronics and set up videogames on our TV way before it was popular,” she said. “He was constantly teaching me what all the stuff on `Star Trek’ was all about.”
Gerhartsreiter, who has claimed to be a Rockefeller, an English nobleman
and a Hollywood producer and who was known as Christopher Chichester at the
time of Sohus’ death, lived in a guest house on the Sohus property at 1920
Lorain Road. Sohus’ buried remains were uncovered there in May 1994 by an
excavation crew preparing to build a swimming pool on the property for a new
Gerhartsreiter was not charged in connection with the disappearance of
Sohus’ wife, Linda, who vanished at about the same time. Defense attorneys
argued that Linda Sohus may be responsible for her husband’s death, but Balian,
in his closing arguments, cited what he called evidence that the defendant
killed her as well.
Balian told jurors that Gerhartsreiter “never thought” that two bags
that were unearthed in the San Marino backyard and “double bagged” around
John Sohus’ skull — one from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and one
from the USC bookstore — would be found behind the guest house where he had
“He put them (the bags) four feet below the earth,” the prosecutor
said, telling jurors that Gerhartsreiter — who attended both universities –
never would have been caught if the swimming pool hadn’t been built. “He did
get away with it for many years.”
In his closing argument, defense attorney Jeffrey Denner told jurors
that Gerhartsreiter would have to be “one of the stupidest murderers in the
history of Southern California” if he killed John Sohus. He said jurors should
ask “whether someone as intelligent and persuasive … would be likely to
commit a murder … and then spread breadcrumbs behind leading people to him.”
Leaving the victim’s head in his alma mater’s book bag would amount to
putting “a plaque there that says `burial by me, defendant Christopher
Chichester,”’ Denner told jurors.
He conceded that his client “is a schnook and worse,” who “tricks
people,” including “filmmakers, judges, successful men and businesswomen.”
But the attorney said his client had no history of violence, no motive and was
not the killer.
Balian told jurors that Gerhartsreiter acted “like a murderer on the
run,” giving up a lucrative Wall Street job after a detective tried to reach
him about a truck connected to the missing couple.
But Denner countered that Gerhartsreiter went into hiding because of the
many “petty, financial white collar crimes” he had committed over the
years, fearing that he would be deported or at least lose all the benefits he’d
garnered through his life of lies.
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